While most students are off for the summer, that’s when NFL teams do the most learning. Training camp is the time of year where coaches do the most teaching and implementing or ‘installing’ their respective systems. It’s a time for players to make plays – and make mistakes – all in the name of learning and getting prepared for the season ahead.
A complete coaching staff overhaul headlined the Buccaneers’ offseason this past year and with a new staff comes a new system. Most players, unless they have played under Head Coach Bruce Arians before (of which, there are a few), are starting from square one. Now, five days into camp, it seems that defense has dominated thus far and while Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles’ system is aggressive, he’s the first to downplay success at this point in the year. This is the time to make mistakes. This is the time players have to learn. And that goes for both sides of the ball.
“We try to work on things every day,” Bowles said, speaking on the defense. “We don’t throw the kitchen sink at them. Jameis [Winston] is a very sharp quarterback. He gives us our fair share of problems as well, believe me. I mean, he understands things and sees things that I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks not be able to do. But we try to get ready for the season. Our install is such that we work on different things every day or different disguises every day, trying to make everything look the same.
“They get their share of touchdowns on us. It’s a lot of give and take and back and forth right now and they’re installing and we’re installing so we just have to continue to make each other better.”
That last part. That’s what it’s all about. An aggressive, hard-to-figure-out defense means a challenge for the offense, which is welcomed by the staff on the other side of the ball. This is the longest period of time teams have to prepare. In season, weeks are spent focusing on a game plan for a specific opponent. Training camp is the time to stress concepts, technique and get everyone on the same page. It’s a time for growth, and growth doesn’t happen without being a little uncomfortable.
“That’s what we kind of want,” Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich said about going against Bowles’ defense. “We probably won’t see a team disguise as well as Todd and them do all year. That’s great for us to have those reps and those opportunities to see if we can get to the right spot. It’s a lot where we’re getting to the right spot with the football, but we’re not game planning or attacking. We’re just running plays from an install standpoint. A lot of the times, we’re trying to put these guys in the worst situation, to be honest with you, especially early in camp so they know how to respond. Once they know how to respond to the danger of what can happen to a protection, to a passing route, once they know how to handle that, they’ll be fine just going against any regular old coverage. So, we’re putting them in tough situations, especially early on. These guys will be fine, they’re responding well to it.”
Coaches are the most hands-on during training camp, analyzing absolutely everything about practice in their film review each day. They script certain situations to make sure the team gets experience in various skills, formations and concepts. Those situations also include things like needing eight points to tie the game with nine seconds left on the clock. They include blitzing periods, as Bowles alluded to, where the defense will bring heavy pressure each play not only for their sake but also so the offense can understand how to respond. It’s safe to gain that experience against your own team. It’s all part of the preparation. After all, coaching only goes so far. This is the most impact the coaches can make because once the season starts, a lot of the team’s success rests on the players’ shoulders. They’re the ones that are on the field. And if they’ve seen it before, they’ll be able to overcome it when it’s time for ‘real football.’
“Us as a coaching staff, we try to put them in the best position possible to win the football game,” Bowles said. “We can put them there, they still have to play. It’s a two-way street. We need them, they need us and we’re working towards that right now and the chemistry is coming together.”
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Training Camp practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.